Walt Whitman was a man wise beyond his time in the ways of diet and exercise. Turns out, the American poet was a proponent of what is known today as the Paleo Diet.
American scholars were stunned by the recent publication of “Manly Health and Training,” a 47,000-word journalistic screed by Whitman that lay undiscovered for the last 150 years. Whitman wrote the series in the late 1850s, just before the third edition of his now-famous “Leaves of Grass” was published. “These are the most interesting and mysterious years in Whitman’s biography, and now we have this major journalistic series right in the middle of it,” said Ed Folsom, the editor of The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, in the New York Times.
Among other things, the newfound tome discusses “The great American evil: indigestion.” Whitman writes: “It is doubtless here that four-fifths of the weaknesses, breakings-down, and premature deaths, of Americans begin.” To combat this great evil, Whitman recommends that people eat “simple and hearty food, and no condiments” and avoid the hundreds of “solid and liquid stimulants, artificial tastes, condiments” that plague the modern diet. Sections of the piece would be indistinguishable from a Michael Pollan book for modern readers.
The solution to all these perils, according to Whitman? Up early in the morning!” he writes. “Habituate yourself to an early brisk walk in the fresh air.” Eat a diet primarily of meat, and avoid processed food, and spend lots of time being active outdoors. In short, live the way our ancestors did–live the Paleo way.
At a time when little (accurate) scientific research existed on diet and exercise, Whitman showed himself to be a person of great foresight–and hindsight–into the human condition.